I have devoted my life to the study of sound. I am not a physicist,
a doctor, a scientist, nor an audiologist. I am a master of sound,
an accomplished concert pianist. Since the age of eight, I’ve
studied the relationship between the body and the vibration of musical
notes. What I couldn’t have known is that one day I would
deeply yearn for the one note I would never hear again – the
note of “no sound.”
Perhaps the tinnitus was caused by all of those over-the-counter
decongestants I was taking for my flu, or maybe it was the stress
of being at the pinnacle of my performing career, or maybe it was
the news that my wife, Nancy, was giving up a good paying job, or
a combination thereof. Whatever it was, one night I dreamt I was
sitting on an airport tarmac between two jet engines. When I woke
up, I realized this noise wasn’t just a dream. It was in my
head! I rolled off the bed onto the floor in a fetal position with
hands over my ears.
Over the next few weeks, I begged doctors to help me. My journey
of hope began with visits to family doctors, referrals, and audiologists.
Weeks turned into years with more research leading my wife and me
to more doctors, shamans, and dozens of healers around the world.
We live in Canada, but traveled to as far away as Japan.
What started as my journey of hope turned into a dark and painful
life with bouts of deep depression. The tinnitus sabotaged my music,
my marriage, and sometimes my very desire to live. The worst part
was that because my injury was not visible to the world, people
had no appreciation or ability to feel compassion for my suffering.
I felt very alone. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe Van Gogh
cut off his ear to make his suffering visible to the world –
not because he thought it would stop his tinnitus.
Believing no one in the world could understand my physical pain,
or my emotional burden, I turned to the Internet only to find chat
groups with more stories of chronic depression and misery. It became
clear I wasn’t alone in my suffering, but it didn’t
make me feel better about my situation. That was when my wife became
the most afraid, and ordered me to stay out of the virtual company
of these sufferers, and instead to stay abreast of research through
the American Tinnitus Association.
I was so busy fighting the tinnitus and struggling to make it through
the day, I barely noticed my wife’s struggle with my tinnitus
too. I had no energy for her personal fight to keep me alive, or
to fight the Canadian Hearing Association when they told me they
couldn’t measure the volume of the noise I hear (higher than
their instruments could measure). I had no strength to fight the
audiologist who sold me “white noise/masking hearing aids”
that, despite my discipline, hope, and full cooperation, didn’t
work for me. I didn’t have the energy to fight other health
professionals who tried to help but whose good ideas didn’t
work. They got my money; I kept the tinnitus.
My last hope, or so I thought, was an audiologist and medical doctor
team who specialized in treating musician’s hearing problems.
Because I’m self employed, I have no drug insurance plan.
Feeling for my situation, they gave me dozen packets of antidepressants.
Feeling hopeful that maybe they would work, I poured the boxes out
on the kitchen table. That’s when I noticed my wife’s
anger and when she gave me the ultimatum: “Paul, either you
choose to live your life on antidepressants, or you choose to face
your disability and conquer it. If you choose to conquer it, you
will live a happy life with me and Adrian [our son]. If you choose
the antidepressants, you will miss your music and your family. It’ll
all be gone.” She stood there with hands on hips and said,
“You choose now, because I’m ready to live with whatever
With my glimmer of hope turning into profound rage, I swept the
table with my arm, and all the pill boxes flew around the room.
My rage turned into deep sorrow for my loss of silence, and I bawled
for the longest time, curled up on the floor. Nancy never came to
comfort me. Maybe she knew I needed to let go of my rage. She watched
standing at a distance and repeated the words “You must choose
now. It’s been four years, and you have to choose what you
are going to do.” I sheepishly got up knowing that I would
get no sympathy from her now. This was tough love. I picked up the
packets, and began to flush the pills down the toilet.
I cried all night, mourning the fact that after four years, the
tinnitus wasn’t going away. I had cried many times before,
but this time was different. On this night, I began to surrender
to the tinnitus. I knew the tinnitus would somehow have to become
my new best friend.
But I wouldn’t be doing it alone. With Nancy and Adrian by
my side, my tinnitus healthcare team at the ready, a new spiritual
mentor into my life, I was introduced to books about the theory
of mind, body, and spirit. I kept a journal of what I ate, how I
lived, and my thought processes. Over a period of time, I learned
by trial and error that I could control the volume of my tinnitus
by completely eliminating wheat products, milk, caffeine, yellow
vegetables, pork, salt, red wine, and citrus fruits from my diet,
and introducing a high-protein diet of beef and certain types of
beans, plus broccoli and other green vegetables. What I eat seems
to control the volume of the tinnitus. I learned that exercise,
sex, meditation, and playing the piano kept my mind off of the tinnitus
for long stretches of time. I learned that my negative thought processes
had kept me focused and addicted to my tinnitus, and that I could
actually control my thoughts to take the focus off of my tinnitus.
I learned that no one else in the world was empowered to heal me,
and that I would ultimately be responsible for my own healing.
Seven years later, I am a completely new person. Tinnitus has transformed
my life – in very positive ways. Because of the tinnitus,
I have walked an 850km pilgrimage across Spain, produced spiritual
films, composed symphony music, became a certified motivational
trainer, and am currently writing my first book. I am healthier,
wiser, more grounded, humbled, and very grateful for my life.
Because of the tinnitus, I now teach people how to find their inner
strength and use it to conquer their mind’s attachment to
illness, vulnerabilities, emotional burdens, and fears. And yet,
with all of my professional credits, nothing in my life’s
journey comes close to my personal accomplishment of conquering
my tinnitus. No, I may never experience silence again. But tinnitus
now serves as a beacon in my life. It is no longer the cruel enemy
that once controlled me.
As a master of sound, I can tell you that the most beautiful sound
I’ve ever heard is the suspended space between two musical
notes – that open space of “no sound,” of silence.
It’s such a great gift. But I’ve learned that other
profound gifts do come, and from the strangest forms of suffering.
As my loving wife once said in one desperate attempt to save my
life, “It’s your choice.” And so I’ve chosen.
For more information about Paul Tobey and Tinnitus visit...